Former Gator McGriff enters the Arena


Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 1:21 a.m.

He wondered if it was over, if it was time to put the cleats away and find a real job. Cut by two teams in the same year, angry and bewildered, Travis McGriff couldn't help but tug on the blanket of disappointment that enveloped him.

"For about 24 hours, it blew me away," he said. "When something like that happens, you have to think it might be the end."

Instead, it was a beginning of sorts for the former Florida and P.K. Yonge wide receiver. And on Sunday, you can watch McGriff playing football on national television.

He will start for the Orlando Predators against Chicago as NBC begins its contract with the Arena Football League. McGriff is the Predators' "offensive specialist" meaning he is the one player on that side of the ball other than the quarterback who doesn't have to play both ways.

"I practiced some at cornerback during training camp," he said. "I played there in high school and during my freshman season at Florida. They told me that with so few players, as the season goes along you have to be ready to do some crazy things."

Arena Football is crazy, football played on half a field with sideboards that come into play. It's also a high-scoring league with plenty of offense.

And it was on offense that McGriff wowed the Predators. He showed up at camp and saw that there were seven receivers with NFL experience. But the 5-foot-8 McGriff has made a habit of overcoming odds.

He was Florida's go-to receiver in 1998, putting up one of the best receiving years in the Steve Spurrier Era with 70 catches for 1,357 yards and 10 touchdowns. He lasted three years with Denver before being cut after the 2001 season.

Signed by Atlanta, McGriff thought he had the team made, but was one of the last players cut by the Falcons.

"I didn't see that coming in a million years," he said. "I couldn't believe it. I realized that what you think is not always what they think.

"The Predators approached me then, but I thought I'd get a call from another NFL team. Nothing happened. I went to San Diego for a workout, but that was it. So I decided that it wouldn't be good to sit out a whole year."

He signed with the Predators in November and began the adjustment to a different kind of football. And McGriff wrapped up training camp with a one-handed touchdown catch that gave the Predators a 47-44 win in a practice game against Tampa Bay.

The game was played in New York after NBC officials asked for a run-through for their television crews.

"He had the best overall camp by a receiver," Orlando coach Fran Papasedero said. "His routes were the most precise and he caught everything thrown at him. He could be a star in the making."

McGriff's size may have had Orlando coaches leery at the start of camp, but just as he has throughout his career he made up for it with sure hands and work ethic.

But it wasn't without adaptation. McGriff had never even seen an Arena League field before last week's game.

"It was a big adjustment," McGriff said. "You don't have time to run away from somebody. If you try to, you'll run into the wall. It's all about timing and angles.

"The defensive backs know how to play here. They really have a knack for knowing what you can and can't do. They know they have the wall. They're not scared you're going to run by you."

He still hopes to get back to the NFL. But for now, for this AFL season, he just wants to enjoy it.

"It's fun," he said. "The ball is constantly in the air and you get a chance to make plays. I want to go back to the NFL, but if this goes well, why not stay?

"It's funny because right after I was cut by the Falcons, I thought maybe I wasn't supposed to do this. But I like to play so much, how could I not take this opportunity?"

You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can see Pat on "Sports Showdown" with Larry Vettel on WGFL-CBS 4 Friday at 11 p.m. and Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

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